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Tuesday, 30 May, 2000, 14:45 GMT 15:45 UK
'Burmese refugees persecuted'

By South Asia analyst Kamal Ahmed

A global human rights body has urged Burma and Bangladesh to take urgent steps to protect about 120,000 Muslim refugees who have fled Burma into Bangladesh.

In a report released on Tuesday the group, Human Rights Watch, has accused Burma's military government of abusing the refugees.


Burmese countryside
Refugees cross into Bangladesh from Burma's Arakan province
It says that they are treated as aliens in their own country.

The release of the report was timed to coincide with the visit to Bangladesh by the head of the Burmese government, General Than Shwe.

But the general's visit has now been postponed because of his ill health.

Persecution

Human Rights Watch says that Burma must improve the treatment of Rohingyas who continue to face discrimination, forced labour and arbitrary confiscation of their property.

It says that this is why thousands of refugees keep coming to Bangladesh, and why they are afraid to return to Burma.

The report says that many refugees in Bangladesh now live in "precarious circumstances".

Refugee boy
The refugees are too scared to return
They have no formal documentation and often suffer abuses, even though conditions in the camps have improved since the early 1990s.

The report accuses the Burmese Government of refusing to recognise the Rohingyas' claim to Burmese citizenship.

It says that many have a well-founded fear of persecution if they return to Burma and should be granted refugee status by Bangladesh.

But the report says that the Bangladeshi Government regards the Rohingyas as illegal economic migrants.

UNHCR under fire

The body also criticised the United Nations High Commission for Refugees for handing over some of the responsibilities of looking after them to various aid agencies.

It says that the UNHCR is the only organisation with the mandate and the expertise to look after the refugees.

The UNHCR's presence should be enhanced rather than reduced it says, and a lasting solution can only be found once the international community puts pressure on Burma to not allow the refugees to be persecuted on their return.

The report says that many of the 250,000 Rohingyas who sought refuge in Bangladesh in the early 1990s returned under a UNHCR repatriation programme.

But it says around 22,000 remained behind, to be joined by another 100,000 who entered Bangladesh after 1991.

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See also:

08 Feb 00 | South Asia
Refugees smuggled to Pakistan
20 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Karen dream of return to Burma
25 Nov 98 | South Asia
Rohingya refugees return to Burma
23 Jan 99 | Asia-Pacific
Inside Burma with the Karen
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